General Motors Ventures has invested US$7m million in Newark, California-based Envia Systems to provide GM's battery engineering team with access to advanced lithium-ion cathode technology delivering higher cell energy density.

In a separate agreement, GM also secured the right to use Envia's advanced cathode material for future GM electrically-driven vehicles.

"Sceptics have suggested it would probably be many years before lithium-ion batteries with significantly lower cost and higher capability are available, potentially limiting sales of electric vehicles for the foreseeable future," said GM Ventures president Jon Lauckner.

"In fact, our announcement today demonstrates that major improvements are already on the horizon."

Other participating investors in Envia are Asahi Kasei and Asahi Glass, as well as current investors Bay Partners, Redpoint and Panagea Ventures. The funding of the investor group totalled US$17m.

"With our high-capacity manganese rich cathode material, Envia is addressing two key issues in the next-generation battery cells - higher capability and lower cost," said Envia Systems chairman and CEO Atul Kapadia.

"We believe our battery materials have taken the technology lead that will help lower price points and unlock the market potential for our customers."

Envia's cathode technology uses materials that store more energy per unit of mass than current cathode materials.  Since the cathode is a key driver for the overall battery cost, the more energy the cathode delivers, the lower the battery cost as fewer cells are needed.

"Our test results on small-format cells show that Envia's high-capacity composite cathode material can increase the energy density of lithium-ion cells by up to one-third, at an equivalent level of reliability, safety and durability," said GM executive director for electrical and battery systems Micky Bly.

"We estimate this improvement in cell energy density and less expensive material will drive a substantial reduction in cell cost, leading to lower cost battery packs like the one in the Chevy Volt."